September 9, 2011 by Reader's Connection
Even a thuggish blogger like myself is humbled by the recollections of 9/11 bravery and pain that have been airing this week on radio and television. I feel silly coming forward with another fiction list. But Norman Mailer is supposed to have advised a fellow author to wait 10 years before writing about the attacks of September 11th, because it would take that long for any writer to make sense of them; and I’m grateful to all the authors who have jumped the gun and given me different ways to think about that day.
No novels, this time. Just four stories.
“Requiem for Sammy the Magic Cat” is told from the point of view of one of the elementary school kids who was in the Sarasota, Florida classroom when President George W. Bush received the news about the terrorist attacks.
Bush was criticized for his hesitant, low-key reaction, and I was afraid that given the nature of the story collection, Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction, W. was going to be trampled again. But author Andrew Foster Altschul portrays the president sympathetically. I think.
I was attending a meeting here at the Library Services Center. During a coffee break, my manager, speaking in a puzzled tone, told me that someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center. I didn’t know what to make of this, and didn’t take it in.
A few minutes later, I was speaking to a librarian friend at Central Library, and he said these reports of what was going on in New York reminded him of the Orson Welles radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” It all seemed unreal.
But then our Help Desk guy said he’d been talking to his mother on the phone, and she was watching the television and crying. I began then to understand that something had really happened. I went to lunch at the Elbow Room, and they were short-handed because some employees didn’t want to come in and work so close to the Federal Building. Mayor Guiliani was speaking on television as I ate.
He has an excuse (the car he ended up with after the divorce doesn’t have a radio) but his ignorance gets him in trouble. The story, which is called “Good to Hear You”, and appears in Reinhorn’s collection Big Cats, is related by the bewildered man’s daughter, who lives half a country away. He’s in Memphis, she’s in Los Angeles.
Her dad is crotchety guy who gave up being an obstetrician to become a painter of paintings, and the daughter has a funny, edgy voice. The story manages to capture some of the confusion felt all over the country on that horrible day.
If this just won’t do, if this doesn’t sound like a bona fide 9/11 story (Memphis? L.A.?) try Patrick McGrath’s “Ground Zero” in his three-story collection Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Now and Then.
You want intense, this is intense. Our narrator is a psychiatrist, and she tells the story of one of her patients; and of the prostitute whom he meets on the Saturday after the attacks and with whom he becomes obsessed; and of the ghost whom the prostitute keeps seeing.
Amid all the wild behavior being exhibited, I began to wonder about the bearings of our story-telling psychiatrist. Only .oo5% of this blog’s readers (which doesn’t amount to a lot of people) will want to read the story, so I’ll go ahead and say that it’s chilling, disorienting. The open-hearted reader is left wandering the streets. I liked it.
One of my colleagues saw me with Amanda Eyre Ward’s Love Stories in This Town, and said that she hadn’t thought of me as a romance reader.
I growled at her, but “The Way the Sky Changed,” the only story I’ve read from the collection so far, does involve a dating couple. The narrator is a bitter, stunted, young 9/11 widow, though, and he’s a young 9/11 widower. And her best friend was lost that day. We get to see the ribbon of damage that runs through families and friendships.
If the narrator of the Holiday Reinhorn story was edgy, this woman is over the edge. I haven’t enjoyed the Ann Beattie stories that I’ve read, with the characters water-skiing over their feelings, at rope’s-length from their souls; and I felt that way about this narrator, first time around. But I reread her tale, and she grew on me. (Of course she’s trying to ski. Wouldn’t I, in her situation?)
Once they have him out with his legs spread, the Guardsmen frisk his person in front of a half-dozen other exiting employees. My father is speechless and humiliated as the young men pat him down. He watches these uniformed children half his age open the glove compartment of the two-door, then rifle through the rest of the car and find his paints. He has left the first watercolor in the hatchback to dry, and they pull it out. The picture of the building with all the concerned faces pressed against the glass.
My father watches the group of Guardsmen examine the painting (his first audience so far), and he wonders if they like it. They seem a bit in awe of the work, even slightly upset.
“It’s just people in a skyscraper,” my father says. “What’s the big deal?”
The one who appears to be the ringleader looks up from the picture and gazes into my father’s eyes. “Jesus Christ,” he says with a kind of disbelieving wonder. “Don’t you know?”
Category Booklist | Tags: Amanda Eyre Ward, Andrew Foster Altschul, Big Cats, Ghost Town: Tales of Manhattan Then and Now, Good to Hear You, Ground Zero, Holiday Reinhorn, Love Stories in This Town, Patrick McGrath, Requiem for Sammy the Magic Cat, September 11th Terrorist Attacks, Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction, The Way the Sky Changed